Archive for the ‘Music nobody listens to’ Category

And it did, too.  The Fainting Room (which included a Whiskeybelle) started a little past 8 PM.

Continuing the Milwaukee Music Summer, tonight was an album release party for the Wooldridge Brothers at local java joint Anodyne Coffee Roasters.

I have been a fan of these fellas since they moved their entire band from Indiana to Milwaukee to be part of the thriving music scene here in 1984, and they were called the Squares.  Of course, that scene fell apart, as did their band (although members of that band are still making music here) and Scott moved to Minneapolis.  But the brothers continued to work together, landing songs on TV shows and films, releasing fine albums.

A couple of years ago, they launched a Kickstarter project (since there’s no music industry anymore) to release two albums; a solo Scott Wooldridge album, and a Wooldridge Brothers band album.  I , of course, supported their efforts, and my support resulted in a producer credit in the liner notes, which is kind of exciting.

Scott’s solo album came out a while ago, and it is fine, in the same vein as their previous records, and it yielded this excellent song:

But they decided to take the band album in a bit different direction.  They took their time and pushed the production levels up, as well as bringing Brian Wooldridge’s guitar solos well forward in the mix, providing an energy and attack that had not been there before.  In addition, their influences -Elvis Costello, Squeeze, the Kinks- are laid more bare than usual.  The result is, frankly, quite startling.

One of the things they did when they realized their schedule was slipping, was create a video for one of the songs, a bittersweet song called “Drive Through Summer” which they recorded in a drive-in theater.  After they filmed it, they realized that the drive-through would provide, if not a concept album, a tone and feeling throughout the album; so they named it Starts At Dusk.  What an evocative name….

We chatted with the Brothers briefly before the show, talking about the new album, other Milwaukee musicians, the show in Minneapolis, and summer family vacation plans.  I had received the album a week prior, as I was a Kickstarter Producer (along with a couple of rare discs of covers and demos) and it was already making quite a mark on me.  Particular standouts are “Waiting It Out” (excellent guitar work by Brian) and “Zero Information” ( think Graham Parker).  It is not to be released online until September; until then it is SOLELY available at Milwaukee Anodyne coffee shops, because there are no record stores anymore.

The show was simply amazing, we were sitting right up front.

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That is actually the Wooldridge Brothers and a Sister-in-Law.  They played almost all the new album too, and we loved it.  It was maybe too short; a tight 90 minutes or so.

Other than the record release, they are mostly relieved to have a project finished and will be focusing on other things for a while, so this may be a rare appearance -although if you live in Minneapolis, Scott plays out relatively often.  In an interview, they said that they hope to be more active in 2018, but until then, there is this absolutely outstanding new album to enjoy.

Up next:  Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, Bouncing Souls and a guy from Stiff Little Fingers.  IN this place:

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This may not be a huge urban enclave, but MAN we have a great music scene.  Yes, yes Big Bastard, if you cut me, do I not bleed music?

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It’s a Holiday Tradition at the Empire!  The Piano Story.  And, since the country started holiday drinking early, we have a new Un-President who is eager to get that nuculer war under way, so here’s a jolly little ditty:

In a more generous and Christmas-ey note, Milwaukee musician and Empire fave Trapper Schoepp got his piano this year.

Merry XMess

THE FIRST LAUGH
Recently, someone pointed me towards an online humor carnival. I didn’t throw anything into it, but it made me think about funny moments.

And one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen personally was such a minor slapsticky moment, it didn’t seem worth it. It was a time when my girlfriend at the time walked full into a glass door. Did you ever see a Star Trek Blooper where Shatner charges into one of those Enterprise doors, expecting the stage hands to pull them aside in time for him to lunge through, and they don’t? Shatner makes a thwock sound and bounces back five or six feet. This was exactly like that except funnier, and I fell over laughing helplessly.

Well, for some reason that girlfriend didn’t immediately drop me as an inconsiderate buffoon; several years later after getting married, graduating, getting a job and finding a real apartment, it was a good time to show how much she meant to me; it was time to find The Perfect Christmas Gift.

THE SET-UP
My wife constantly lamented her family’s inability to afford a piano as a child. As a good husband, one only has to mention something 3 or 4 hundred times before I clue into it, so I struck upon the inspired idea of giving her a piano for Christmas. A Piano!

….uuhhh, how does one go about procuring a piano?

Let’s start with the Yellow Pages! (pre-internet, kidsos, keep up here.) Ahh. A place right downtown called the Piano Gallery. Good place to start. Could I BE a bigger idiot? It was a friggin’ GALLERY. With Pianos, beautiful, gorgeous pianos of spectacular finish and epic, gorgeous tone; pianos that could make you weep. Both kinds: Grand and Baby Grand. Reconditioned, starting at eight thousand dollars. Whoops! Maybe this idea won’t be going anywhere after all. Let’s look at calendars.

Well, after puttering around a couple of mall-style stores that seemed to specialize in automated piano-like organs with automatic beats aimed at little old ladies to jazz up rhumba night at the retirement home, I resorted to the For Sale ads. (These are like an analog version of Craig’s List for you kidsos. newspapers used to have them. Ask your grandfather what a newspaper was.) Finally I found an upright for sale right in the sweet spot of my price range. Oddly enough, when I came to look at it, the address was…a waterbed store? Weirder and weirder. I went in and asked for Mark, who was apparently the manager.

He took me back to the loading dock, and I asked… “Why are you selling it ? And… why in a waterbed store?” Mark replied that he had moved to town recently, their condo did not have room, and so it had to go.

The piano was an upright made in Chicago by Camp & Company around 1914; the wood had warm golden finish that was soft and deep. There were some carved and applied wood details, that were more of a crude craftsman style; they imparted an unassuming , almost home built character. The ivory on the keys was yellowed, but smooth, evidence of its age and the thousands of fingers that had played it. As an architect, I am always sensitive to the way built items age and acquire historic patina; the instrument appealed to me on an aesthetic level.

He asked me if I wanted to play it, and I replied that it would be a gift for my wife, that I didn’t really know how to play and knew little of pianos. So he sat on the railing of the loading dock and pounded out some boogie-woogie, and a little christmas music. Although the instrument was maybe a bit out of tune, it had a lively, ebullient sound. (Later I found that through dumb luck, we had acquired an instrument that was well built with a nearly-intact soundboard and a serviceable action). It was obvious that he loved the instrument, it sounded passable to my tin ears, and I said it was a deal.

THE ROUND-UP
Now here’s where things get intricate, and I maybe tried to be too tricksy. I wanted to deliver it on Christmas eve, which was a Saturday this year. Mark said he would be able to work with that on two conditions: First, it would have to be in the morning, because he would have to open the store to get it; and second, that I pay him in cash, because he and his family were leaving for a Holiday trip that day. This seemed workable to me; how vainly optimistic one can be!

I arranged for a couple of friends, Mike, Rory and Jack to help me out, and spent several days congratulating myself on achieving the Perfect Gift. I was just counting chickens, friends and guinea pigs, when the eggs were alligator.

THE HOOK
Saturday Morning, Christmas Eve. My wife got up and needed to do some last minute shopping; how perfect! I could barely keep from laughing and telling all in glee as I kissed her goodbye. My helpers were due to be here by 10 AM, so I had to get to U-Haul to get a truck. I have no compunction about mentioning the company here; you will soon see why.

The U-Haul store was a bit busy, but they had assured me they had a truck when I called. They certainly did: a nineteen foot delivery truck. NINETEEN feet. For a single piano. Of course, the advertised $19.95 rate was not available for this truck. The small truck with the $19.95 banner parked right next to this one? Not serviced; not available. Oh well, small concern, considering the cost of the gift. Gimme the keys. Took the truck home, to wait for my helpers.

9:30.

10:00

10:30

10:45. By now, i started calling them. Rory? no answer. Jack? No Answer. Mike? Finally an answer! Hoarsely, “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it….” Rory? Still no answer. Jack calls back. Jack! He wasn’t going to be able to make it either, unless we could be sure he’d be done by 2 PM. Oh, no problem! Come on over! Okay, fine, after you’ve had some coffee. I didn’t tell you to go drinking last night.

So, Jack and I -just half of the movers I had anticipated as necessary – finally got back into the truck by about quarter after eleven, and got on the road.

THE TALE
Hah. Fooled you. It wasn’t that easy, of course. The truck wouldn’t start. Not a dead battery; it was a gap in the flywheel. For you non-gearheads, this meant that the starter would just spin away without turning the engine at all. I looked at Jack; he looked at me. Ummm. After fooling around for ten minutes, Jack had a brainstorm – he disengaged the gear shift, which moved the flywheel – just enough – that the starter caught and the engine started.    Wooo! Here we go. Down the highway, back behind the waterbed store and back up to the loading dock, killing the truck and running in to meet Mark, who was very impatient by now.

Now go back and read that last sentence again, and see if you can catch our mistake. Let the adventure begin.

I went in and paid Mark, and while Jack and I were securing the piano, Mark closed the door and hit the road. Jack and I laughed to see the piano – just an upright – sitting in that cavernous truck, roped to the side.  We could have fit a whole CAR in there and never touched the piano.

Back to the cab, ready to go. As you may have guessed, the starter was whiffing again. We tried the gearshift trick, but this time were not so lucky, it didn’t help. The truck was in a loading dock depression, so we couldn’t push it . Now Jack and I looked at each other and had little in the way of ideas. You know, keep in mind that at this time cell phones were bigger than bricks and cost thousands of dollars.

Settle in now, this is getting interesting.

Hey, there’s a phone by the gas station across the street. (station closed, of course). But who to call? I can’t call my wife, besides the awful giveaway, she’s not home. Try calling U-Haul? They’re no longer open. Isn’t there an emergency number? If I ran U-Haul, it would be plastered all over the inside of the cab. After half an hour of searching, we finally find it, in the small print of the Operations Manual. So I give it a call.

And get an operator. In Arizona. Who wonders whether it’s cold in Wisconsin. Ha-ha, yes, and we’ve got snow. And I’m standing outside in an open phone booth, trying to get help for the broken-ass truck that I rented from a Local U-hauler. Ha-ha, yes it’s not a good day for it, is it? Enough with the levity, let’s start discussing how you’re going to help me. You what? You need to call the local 24 hour service, who will get back to me? Fuck me sideways with a christmas tree, did I mention I am standing outside an open phone booth? By a highway? Oh, yes, please do try and get him to call as quickly as possible.

I run back to the truck to tell Jack that I got somebody, but now I need to wait for a return call.

And run back across the road to wait. It starts to snow.

UNDER-SERVED
While I’m waiting, Jack comes over to give his sister a call. It is now after 1 PM, and he’s got to get on the road somehow. After he calls, we notice a bar across the highway that appears to be open. Hey, just the thing! A nice hot drink, some brandy certainly, maybe a snack… we can call Arizona Lady back and give her the bar’s number. This works! We dodge the traffic to get across and tumble through the door, savoring the warmth and the welcoming smells of a tavern … aaaaahhhh.

“Hey, gents! Can we do something quick for ya? We’re closing down.”

Gaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh…… A quick explanation, and no, we can’t hang around even if they’re closed, whattaya, nuts? Gotta get home to the family!! So – it’s back to the phone booth. And the snow.

BYPASS ON THE BYPASS
Now, this is the place where the Universe looks down and… decides to fuck with me. I mean more. As I stand and wait for someone, somewhere to dial this phone on an icy intersection in the deepening wintery gloom, there’s little to do but watch the cars go by. Lights change, cars go one way; the lights change again and they go the other. A fair amount of last minute shopping traffic, actually. The phone is close enough to the street to be able to see drivers clearly. Once in a while, one looks over at me; maybe one out of four looks at me in puzzlement, obviously wondering what in hell is possessing me to stand there. But most of them are just driving past, much more intent on finishing their shopping and getting the hell home. And as I am watching the cars, I see one at the next light that looks an awful lot like ours. At the time, we had a last-year-model Fiero, you see, and there were not that many of them on the streets. Kind of unusual. This one matched ours. I couldn’t make out the license plate, though, and as it swept around the corner, of course I saw quite clearly: my wife. In our Fiero. Driving blithely right past me. Stranded at an abandoned gas station, with her gift stranded in a truck across the street.

The impulse to try and wave her down came, but the car was gone before any frozen limbs could be cracked into action. She was one of the drivers who paid no attention, of course. If someone had driven by with an open window at that moment, they might have been able to hear a few cracked, desperate laughs through the wind and snow.

OVER THE WIRE
After some indefinable amount of time passed, the phone rang. It was Arizona Lady.

Well, things were going great down in Arizona. She had located the service company up in Milwaukee, and left a message for their driver….

“Hold on. Left a message?”

“Yes sir.”

“Your truck has left me stranded by a highway in the Wisconsin winter, and you left a message?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I know it may not seem terribly urgent down there in Arizona, but did it ever occur to you that I am sitting here with a defunct piece of shit truck, freezing while I’m waiting for help, and that maybe it could use a bit more effort than leaving a message?”

“Sir, I have done what I can. Why don’t you run the truck heater?”

“IF I COULD START THE TRUCK TO RUN THE HEATER, WE WOULDN’T BE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.”

“I AM sorry sir.”

“…yea, me too. Just….do what you can, OK? It’s not Arizona up here.”

The tow truck driver would be calling me at the pay phone number after he checked his messages; he would let me know when he was ready to come and get me. Thankfully and against all expectation, the driver called me within a few minutes, and after getting the location, let me know that it would likely be about 45 minutes, because he had another job to take care of first. Busy season, ya know. I agreed; next time I would plan my breakdown emergency better and schedule ahead.

Jack’s sister showed up soon with their car packed for their own holiday trip, full of clothes, gifts, and their two large dogs. Although cramped, we all piled into the front seat grateful for the warmth; the truck cab had gotten down to air temperature by now and we were chilled. Jack, his sister and I shared passed around…. well a little bit of holiday cheer, I guess you could call it; by the time they left for their own holiday gathering, most of my despair had been blunted, for a short time at least. It was three PM, and the sky was leaden gray, although the snow had mostly stopped.

I walked across the road once again to use that cursed open phone to call home and leave a message.

“Hi, it’s me. I….well, I’m having quite a day. I will probably be home in an hour or two. Nothing’s wrong, really; I’m OK. It’s just….well, I’ll explain when I get home. Don’t worry.”

Then, I settled into the cab alone to try and stay warm and wait for the tow driver, hoping this wouldn’t be too long.

THE HOOK-UP
I was a little surprised when I saw the tow truck pull into the parking lot. I had forgotten that U-Haul had given me the 19 footer. The tow truck was a 6 wheel monstrosity with dual booms, as large as a semi truck cab. It was about 4:30, and it had gotten fully dark by now. I stepped out and Chris introduced himself. He asked me what was wrong with the truck, and then spent some time looking it over. After a few minutes, I asked if I could sit in the cab of the tow, because I had been out here in the cold for hours.

“Oh, sure! Go ahead! Why didn’t you run the heater?”

Grrmmph.

THE SHOVE-OFF
Chris came back and said that the truck was in pretty bad shape. No news to me, of course, but I was just thankful to be warming up. Now, he started to explain to me that he was on a 24 hour call cycle from the Milwaukee Police department, and that all weekend he would be on call to clear accident sites for them. I was concentrating on getting warm, and didn’t really register what he was saying, until something like this came out:

“…so I would have to leave you and your truck and take care of it…”

“…wait, what?”

“Well, if the police call with a tow request, I’ll have to dump you and your truck and take care of their needs first. I just want to be clear about that before I start towing you.”

“Um. What’s the alternative?”

“I could try calling one of the other towing services for you, but I don’t know anybody else on call this weekend. It’s a holiday, you know.”

“I’ve been made aware. I’m gonna take the chance. Just one thing; if you get another call, can I ride with you, rather than sitting in that broken-ass truck?”

“Well…I’m not supposed to. But maybe…. OK, but just stay in the truck when we do, OK?”

“Fine. Great. Let’s go.”

So Chris turned up the heater for me, and went back to disconnect the drive shaft and get the truck hoisted. He came back into the tow cab to fill out some paperwork, and then he got back out to check the connections.  And then he put the hoist back down, because guess what? Yes, he got a call from the MPD. And off we went to an accident site.

HOOKED
It was a pretty minor fender bender, all things considered, right outside of a gas station. I sat in the cab and watch Chris and the cops work, and looked into the convenience store to see a clerk waiting on people for gas, beer, and cigarettes. When Chris got back in, he mentioned that the car was probably drivable, but the driver was DUI, so he had to tow it to the impound lot. Now warm, I could even muster a bit of humor; “Someone who’s having a worse Christmas Eve than I am.” I said. I asked Chris if he’d mind if I stepped out to use the pay phone and call home. This time my wife was home. Now, will it be possible to not let the secret out?

“Hi. I’m still having a bit of , umm, delay . Adventure. But there’s progress and I should be home in a little while.”

“…ohhh-kaaaaay…”

“Ummm, is Tom home upstairs?”

“…yea, I think so.”

“Could you ask him if he might be around a little later? I might need some help.”

“…ohhhh-kaaaaay….what kind of help?”

“just – umm,  help moving something. OK?”

“….ohhh-kaaaaay…”

Chris had gotten the car hooked up and we were off to the impound lot. Which is not the holiday destination you’d expect it to be.

It was after 7 by the time we got back to ‘my’ truck. Chris just had to hoist it at this point, though, and were on the road relatively quickly. I almost cried….no, I did cry. A little bit. After all this time, to actually be making some progress, some distance, in the direction I wanted to go….it was too much.

After about ten minutes of travel, the radio squawked. I looked up, startled, Chris looked at me and answered – another MPD call. Chris was apologetic, but duty called first and we dropped the crippled truck in a closed mall’s parking lot. It looked abandoned, sitting alone in the middle of the paving under a single light, no other vehicle around it. I worried, briefly, about someone burglarizing it. But what would they do with a piano? As we turned the corner, I wasn’t sure I cared.

THE BIG ROLL
This accident was a good deal less significant than the previous, and Chris just had to clear the street. Another tow truck was coming for the vehicle. So amazingly enough, we were back on the road toward my abandoned truck within half an hour or so. It was 8:30.

Again, Chris hoisted the U-Haul truck, and we turned out onto the highway. Chris was conciliatory at this point, and he vowed that if he received another call, he would make sure he dropped me off before answering it. I wasn’t terribly concerned at this point; I was warm.

He didn’t get another call, though, and just after 9 PM on Christmas Eve, we pulled up in front of our duplex. Turns out I didn’t need Tom from upstairs to help us move the piano. Chris was a large guy, and being sympathetic to the effort it took for me to get this far, helped me unload the piano and get it in our apartment.

My wife, of course, loved the piano and still does; it took several drinks to tell the story and still is a holiday favorite.  But I always find myself thinking to what it must have looked like to my wife, keeping a watch for me to come home through our front windows.  Eventually, the tow truck turned the corner, with it’s full array of running and flashing lights, and the lights of the U-Haul truck also lit up.  I have no idea what this 40-plus feet of contraption looked like, coming to a stop in front of our apartment.  Normally, it would be the results of some large, appalling accident.  But for this one year, at least, it looked like Christmas.
Epilogue:  THE STING
Chris helped me move the instrument into our apartment, and I insisted on tipping him all the cash I had left. He had performed above and beyond the call of duty. He asked whether I wanted him to drop the truck.“I never want to lay eyes on that vehicle again. If I see it out there tomorrow morning, I’ll probably set it on fire; so you could leave it at the U-Haul store, their repair lot, or push it into the lake, makes no difference to me.” He said he’d drop it at their repair lot.On the first business day after the holiday, I received a phone call from my favorite truck rental company.“Sir, we have you on record as renting a truck from us two days ago.””Uh-huh.”“Sir, we need to know where the truck is.”

Oh, let’s close the curtain on that scene; and you can just fill in the blanks for the rest of THAT conversation.

To all my imaginary digital friends, acquaintances, visitors and general pains in the asses, enjoy your own holidays, love your friends and family, and I hope someone brought you YOUR piano.

I brung this over from Facebook, because it became apparent that I would go long on this.

http://web.musicaficionado.com/main.html#!/article/The_Classic_Rock_Band_Current_Lineup_Scorecard_by_craigrosen?campaign=fbbandscpc

This is an interesting digression. Because, as we all get older, the people in the bands we love tend to die. Now, loss of Kurt Cobain obviously meant Nirvana was no more, as he was singer and principal songwriter. But for a band like the Mekons, every song is credited to Mekons and they are legendary for mixing and matching band members not only over time, but over a year. (They leave themselves an out, in that all people who have performed with the band are Mekons or Deputy Mekons, forever and anon and, as Jon Langford once said “The only way out of the Mekons is in a box”. Maybe not so funny now that people are actually taking that exit…)

But here’s where it gets to the nub for me. Because, you know, before you knew the band they changed members. Pretty regularly. It is, in fact, very rare that bands maintain any kind of band roster, even after they get a recording contract. For instance, many people will not know that Steve Perry was not an original member of Journey.

Also, as far as I am concerned, kicking Dennis DeYoung out of Styx was simply a reasonable use of a fortuitous occurrence to being able to play on stage without wearing robot costumes EVER AGAIN….

The examples are Numerous.  The Who went on without Keith Moon, but some would say they were never the same.  I have personally seen Springsteen with and without the Big Man, and the show without was better (although not because of the change, admittedly).  REM soldiered on without Bill Berry, but the spark seemed missing.  Pink Floyd are a completely singular case, as they seem to need to discard primary members on a regular basis…

Elvis Costello and ELO had a singular driving personality, but they benefitted from band consistency, but it did not turn out to be crucial  Red Hot Chili Peppers had to deal with rotating drug use/ guitarist flaking, but they seemed to go on just fine; the time I saw them was post-Hillel and they were pretty fucking awesome.  The Pretenders stopped pretending and just have a band backing up Chrissie at this point.

The English Beat are one of the worst, with Dave Wakeling leading a band of much younger people through the songs he wrote and sang when he was much younger.  But you know what?  The songs are the same….

And that, to me is where the dividing line happens. When the band has new members, do they move on and try to move into new music, or is it a simple desire to recapture past glory and serve the nostalgic impulses that people will pay money for?  Because, like I said, bands change members all the time while they are building audience and writing material.  So, after they get famous, what is wrong with them continuing to do so?  Except, of course, for the fact than no one comes out to their shows to hear new music.  Mick Jagger once said in an interview that “No one wants to hear your new songs”.  To which, David Bowie SHOULD have replied “Well, maybe they don’t want to hear YOUR new songs”…

A long-lived band has that tough row to hoe.  I can see how it is much easier to just go into the nostalgia circuit (hell, I just went to see X play from their first four albums.  I saw Matthew Sweet do Girlfriend.  I am Guilty).

So I am going to talk about two bands I am most familiar with and you know who I am going to say. Blue Oyster Cult and Mekons.  Come on, you knew where this was going.

Blue Oyster Cult was existing in a couple of different incarnation in the late 60s and early 70s, mainly revolving around Buck Dharma and the Bouchard brothers. Their early stuff was more psychedelia filtered through garage rock; but adding Menacing presence (although oddly short) Eric Bloom and sharing songwriting with Sandy Pearlman took them in a darker tone.  Yes, they spent the 70s with a single lineup.  But when band members started dying, Bloom and Buck kept on, tapping some great musicians and continuing to record albums resulting in great songs that you never heard like “Dance On Stilts” and “Harvest Moon” which should have been hits.

Look, here is a timeline of band members:

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That is what every band’s life looks like.

At this point I will not even get into the Mekons band life, which is twisted even by that standard.  So here’s what I have to say.

I really respect bands who continue to work past their supposed “high point” by working hard and writing new music (Hello, Cheap Trick!”)  and I am the guy out there cheering for your new songs, because new music is the fuel I use to keep moving….

But there are bands that helped make us the people we are today, and sometimes the best you can do is to see them in some weird modern incarnation.  I mean, for me, seeing the Beach Boys without Brian Wilson would be meaningless, but many people like it.  Of course, none of them want to hear any new songs, but want to hear a greatest hits compilation .  This is where I should badmouth them, but I saw the Police reunion tour (and Elvis Costello, opening, with vital new music, was SO MUCH BETTER but that is me).

I have seen Styx several times, and I think they are better without Dennis DeYoung.  I saw Blue Oyster Cult in various levels of original members, and with one notable exception, they were always great. I have never seen Cheap Trick in a any way not be fantastic. But there are tribute bands, that are working the circuit to compensate for bands that no longer perform.  I have been a great fan of Chicago’s Think Floyd, who I have seen prefer an entire Wall show.  Toronto’s Musical Box performs full theatrical performances of Genesis, true to their performances in the 70s including costumes. I have seen them do Lamb Lies Down on Broadway three times.

Sometimes bands pull it together for a cash-in.  The Violent Femmes are way guilty of this (although once they did it in a Tsunami benefit; for which we have a signed band-aid poster).

Because here: it’s about the music.  Its about what it means to you.  The music happened, once upon a time.  Sometimes, people perform it for you.  Some of them may have been part of the original band, some may have not.  If you love classical music, no one involved is still alive… But enjoy it or not, based on the skill of the musicians involved….and then, at the end, say wasn’t that the best?

With that offhand comment by Jon Langford, the Mekons had a mission statement, and proceeded to act it out.  Because of course they did.

At this point, they not only are perfectly willing to completely throw any conceptions about music, songwriting, and performance away, they have earned the right to do so.  If you have hung out here for any amount of time, you may have absorbed some of their background; art-school punks who not only COULDN’T play their instruments (actually, Gang of Four’s instruments, but that’s neither here nor there) but they REFUSED to.  And they’ve been unceremoniously dropped by more record labels than you have parents.  But they still keep on; and as was said in Joe Angio’s stellar doc “Revenge Of The Mekons” it may be argued, with little disagreement, that here and now, nearly 40 years on, they are making the most vital and important music of their career….

It has been a really good time to be a Mekons fan.  Langford has been as prolific as ever, solo and with the Wacos.  The Mekons released a wonderful collaboration with the amazing Robbie Fulks (Jura), recorded in a remote Scottish island.  There was a tour that came to Mineral Point Wisconsin, which brought me back from the dead. The afore-mentioned documentary, which had great reviews and had TWO showings (with band members for Q&A!) at the MKE Film Festival (yes, I went to both!)

I have said several times, and I expect I will again; that I deeply regret not being able to attend this event, held at a small art place in Brooklyn; Jalopy (BBBB was SINGULARLY unhelpful in getting me a ticket NOT THAT I AM ANGRY).  75 Mekon fans and the band with a single mic input recording all-new music and the audience was the on-hand Feral Choir.  I mean, I am as feral as anyone!

And, being the Mekons, they also did a book and full-length video.  Because, again, why not and they have earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want.

The video is by Barry Mills, who has worked with them on several projects.  I saw his work when Langford and Timms brought The Executioner’s Last Songs to Alverno Theater.  This is, essentially a full album rock video; last done by REM for their second album.

The book is filled with prose and poetry, lyrics and art and free-association diatribes.  It will be best read while drunk.  Or maybe sober.  Or maybe while stoned.  Out loud?  On the beach at midnight, maybe. In any case, like the music that is not easy-listening, this is hardly easy-reading. As a friend, Boocock, says, this will take much reading and listening to digest.

The music is some of the best I’ve heard from them.  it is simple and straightforward, and the Feral Choir is a great addition (although maybe lacking for zombies).  I hear some echoes from the electro album, Me, in some of the drum-n-bass lines and some of the guitar work.

It is deceptively simple, but the references are thick and fast, not only to their own prior work, but the whole recorded history of music. There are even parts that sound like their first two albums.

In the book, one writer used the phrase “shambolic precision” and that is a perfect distillation of the Mekons.  You watch them play, listen to them, and you don’t know whether they know what they are doing or whether they are just getting lucky. It always seems to be just this side of going off the rails, and that is what makes it so engaging when it turns into anthemic rage or a lovely dirge.

I know that this will do little for most of you, but here is a part of the video, for a song called “Fear and Beer (hymn for Brexit)”  featuring normal violin playing Suzie Honeyperson on piano:

 

To me, this album has really built on and taken the best from their last four or five albums (which were mostly really good, with one stellar).  It is deceptively simple, but keeps surprising you.  It has a wide variety, but the enforced order of the recording process keeps a common thread.  It may be noted that the contributions of Steve Goulding and Lu Edmonds may help to keep it on the rails more often than not. But  It also sounds like they were having a helluva time, playing in front of a bunch of friends and fans.  And let me tell you, watching the Mekons play when they are having a good time is a special thing indeed.

It’s worth mentioning that the first time I saw the Mekons, they were on their first major label tour, and they were having a blast.  The next time, I brought Wife Sublime, and they had just been dropped by the label, in the middle of America.  They were decidedly NOT having a great time.  We left.

It is very odd, when I think about it; why this band has come to mean so much to me.  You may also be perplexed and you are allowed to be.   They are, yes inconsistent. Although they came out of the first flush of British punk, they moved on from that long ago.  Although they pioneered the ‘alt-country’ genre, they do not play the American version of it like Wilco or Old 97s (both of whom I love).  They WILL play a song you hate just to get a reaction.

However, they are perfectly happy to drink with you before and after a show, and they have absolutely no pretensions of being ‘rockstars’.  They are musicians and artists who respect that you have paid money for their work, and they kind of love you for that.

But I think the basic reason I love their work so much is that they are unwilling to repeat themselves; they have no interest in doing similar things, over and over but rather want to explore, to find the things that interest them and where that takes them. This extends to all of their creative artistic endeavors, art writing whatever.  They are not content to sit still.  If you look at the difference between “Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Curse Of The Mekons” ; although the band thought they were delivering what the record label wanted, it was different enough that the second record was never released and the band was dropped mid-tour (see above).

They have said that they only get together when they feel like there’s a reason; memorably, they had an introspective, acoustic album called Natural that happened when a mutual friend died, and they were all in one location for the funeral proceedings.

Everything they have ever published has been credited to “Mekons”, even though there have been like 300 Mekons and Jon Langford has said “the only way out of the band is in a box” and since a couple have died, that is not so funny…

I ramble, on I ramble, like Brian Jones I ramble, and I don’t know where I am going or where I should be going.  I have tried to grapple with my affection for these art-school dropout weirdos, and am not sure I have gotten any closer.  But I will say that after three listens and the video, that I think this album is one of my favorites.

The Mekons started in the late 70s.  I saw them first in the mid-80s.  The album “Rock ‘n’ Roll” catapulted to my favorite list and yes, i put it on top of London Calling.  And since then, as weird and off-kilter they have been (or maybe because of it?) they have remained there. To me, they never disappoint, and I think that is mainly because they never bother do work that disappoints themselves…

 

M. Ward has not played in Milwaukee since 2008.  Since then, we had much discussion on the bloggerhood, especially when Pinko of the California (at the time) Punkos turned me onto this song:

 

Man I love that song.  Which I find especially lovely because of it’s unusual structure, recursive lyrics, and extended coda.

So when we saw that he would be playing at the gorgeous and fine Pabst Theatre, I got tickets of course I did.

There were two very fine opening bands, a poppish group featuring Jenny Lewis called Nice as Fuck, who wandered down the aisle to their stage in front of the stage to the JEM! theme song, and they performed a great song called “Put Your Guns Away” and the crowd responded enthusiastically, in this post-Orlando week.

Because, boys did we need to have some music.  Last Sunday, after reading the news, we went to Locust Street Days to see The Mosleys and the Whiskeybelles, local awesome musics.  It was a good tonic, but reading the way the NRA, the Republicans, and Donald Trump responded took more.  I mean, after the retching.

I am not sure about the actual name of the second band.  The Pabst listing is:  “Erika Forster from Au Revoir Simone & The Like’s Tennessee Thomas” but I think the band has an actual name, although I did not catch it.  But Ms. Forster alternated between very quiet introspective folk songs, country ballads, and full-on guitar squall freakout worthy of Sonic Youth.  Sometimes in a single goddam song…talk about being  right the hell in my wheelhouse…

So.  Given those songs up above, and especially, M. Ward’s new album More Rain, I was not sure about what the show would sound like.  I thought it might be a very quiet, folky, jazzy night and tell me if you wouldn’t think the same thing.

But M.Ward hit the stage with an instrumental, that got very noisy halfway through. He had Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus Five, Robyn Hitchcock and REM on bass. I missed the name of the second guitarist, but Ward’s Gibson was front and center and really loud.

He played a lot of really great songs, a couple of covers, a Monsters of Folk tune, and that Chinese Translation song up above….and they were all a fuck of a lot louder than on those albums, which I now consider to be overproduced.  And the instrumental outdo on that song got WAY longer and WAY louder than  on the album , and it made this zombie happy…

M. Ward is a very under-rated guitarist, not the least for being able to tell when to lay back.  But in the live venue, he doesn’t do that, mostly.  Also, I love his songwriting, because it borrows from rock and R&B from everywhere, and puts it together in unconventional ways, with no choruses, or refrains that occur in weird places.  Again, right in my wheelhouse.

He came back a couple of times for encores, and every one of the bands acknowledged the beauty of the historic venue they were playing, and the crowd was super enthusiastic for all of them.  It was a great end to week following a tragedy, and I think the artists believed it and did what they could, which is often just what we need and it is what we kind of need from our artists.  And, in some ways, it was just what we needed.   And My!  Didn’t we have a wonderful time!

Pretty good warmup for Summerfest….

Also, thank you Pinko Punko for turning me on to him…..

That title was kind of a gimme, am I right?

But Sinead O’Connor’s cover of that song revealed what a stellar songwriter Prince Rogers Nelson was.

Look, I am a white suburban kid; my music inputs ranged from hard rock to basic rock to classic rock.  However, once my brain had been opened up by the punk and the new wave, and then my circle of friends was expanded by going to college, I was open to new sounds and ideas…

And the idea of this Prince guy was probably sent into my brain by some stupid rock music article.  But when I had a few extra Ameros, visiting the local Over-sized Supermarket in a poor cow-town college town, they had 2 (TWO!) copies of “1999” and I bought one.  I really wonder who bought the other (although I know the store may have sent it back).  It was a white boy, barf ‘n’ boogie environment, and new wave funk really did not fit in….but in one house, it did. It fit in between REM and the Thompson Twins and Elvis Costello and the B-52s and Boomtown Rats and Wall of Voodoo and U2 and so many others….my musical mind had been blown wide open….

I have been able to see two different shows at First Avenue.  One was an epochal show from Soul Asylum with one of my personal favorites the Figgs opening, and I got ROARING drunk; the other was a tribute to Big Star’s Third album, which featured many Milwaukee musicians and where I got paleo as drunk as I was the previous time,  Both times, I simply reveled in being in a legendary dive….

I moved to Milwaukee. The music scene was blowing up.  Femmes,  R&B Cadets, Jim Liban, EIEIO, Snopek ….and I was going to college.  But I had some connection to a dick that was booking for the college, and he needed to provide some big dudes to hump cases.  We did.  Art of Noise, Bruce Cockburn, Iggy Pop….

But none of that matters.  I spent much time in and around music, local and touring.  Even though I sold my Les Paul to stay in college, I stayed involved, and still go see bands often (the Big Gig is upcoming!) Music has  been a huge part of my life, stretching all the way back to when I bought my first record player.

Prince was great from the first time I ever heard him, playing that copy of “1999” for bemused room-mates.

Prince has created genius-level music.

Prince demolished the ideas of gender.  He performed while wearing feminine clothes, and had lesbians in his band.

Prince demolished the idea of genre.  I defy good friend Zelmo to tell me what pigeonhole Prince belongs in.

Prince did “Starfish and Coffee” on the muppet show.

Prince told a corporate music shitheads to fuck off, by changing his name.  Then he continued to flip them off by performing under a different name….

Prince once offered a song to the Violent Femmes, which they declined as too sexual…

Prince was kind to Paul Westerberg.  Prince intimidated Bob Mould to the point he never worked up the nerve to talk to him.

Prince did  whatever the fuck he wanted, when he wanted to.  He was the most talented person I have seen in my lifetime, and the had, as far as I can tell, the most integrity.

Prince continued to support the local music scene, at every level. in a notable reference, Field Report says he came out to see them play….

I have a FaceHell friend who posted wondering why we spend so much time and effort when famous people die.  But it’s not like a Kardashian, or Reagan;  Prince accomplished much, and hardly ever compromised, and opened up spaces for people to be weird in their own way, to define themselves in their own way.  It isn’t unrelated that at those times, I pierced my ears (3 times), and cut my hair short, and grew it long, and colored it blond and red and wore stupid clothes with red Converse high-tops.  The answer to your question, Peter, is not that we idolize these people (although we might!) but that the things they did moved us and were important to us and they seemed like friends, because like friends, their work supported us and kept us going when times were hard.  Losing them is hard, because now we have to face life without their help, and use our own meager talents to keep up their legacy and their work, and we fear we are not worthy.  And we will miss, painfully miss, all the work they could have done in the future.

I will miss that I never took advantage of the opportunity to see him play.  Friends, go see a band you like right now, because there is no guarantee that you will ever see them again; it’s why I survived a heart attack a year ago so I could see the Mekons play in Mineral Point; there are no damn guarantees.

I DO yammer on, don’t I?  So here is my finale.  I  like Prince and have loved him, and he is much respectable as a musician and artist in every way.  It is perfectly fitting that landmarks around the world were illuminated Purple.

We didn’t deserve him in the first place, and we are so much the poorer for losing him.

Also, and I have linked this elsewhere, but do you want more proof of his genius?

 

 

At the end, he turns and as much as says “that’s all I have to say about THAT” and not having a mic to drop, drops his guitar into the audience.  As I have said many times, looking sadly down at the sausages at the end of my hands….”why can’t  you guys do that?”  He taught himself…

Prince taught me a way to love funk, hip-hop and R&B,  made me love  musicians that are so talented they can cross every genre, and to love people who are genuinely and honestly weird….

You have been a man who changed my life….Imma miss you Prince.  But the rest of us, we’re not through yet….

That’s the best I can do.  Sorry, man….

EDIT.   With the other shit that 2016 is raining down, I just loved the:

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The River was about

the taking of that time

and how we each have a finite amount of it

to do our jobs

to raise our families

to do something good

How the fuck does a SIXTY-SIX YEAR OLD MAN play with that kind of energy for THREE AND A HALF HOURS?

The last time we saw Springsteen, was nearing the end of the Bush Regime, and a lot has happened since then.  This time around, he was celebrating the 35th anniversary of what he called his ‘coming of age’ album.  I bought that album when it came out (amusingly enough, through Columbia House ).  However, that was when I was getting  heavily into metal and punk, and I confess it mostly left me a bit meh….the vinyl ended up in a crate, rarely played for a long time.  Mainly, I recall thinking there were a few good songs, and some serious filler.

Well, I have drastically changed THAT opinion.

Shit.  3 1/2 hours.  THEY JUST KEPT PLAYING….

Of course, the first half of the show, while stellar and amazing and all kinds of zombie, held few surprises.  I did enjoy that they played the first song, Meet Me In The City, with the house lights up so all of us could see all of the other people, and the E Street Band could see us too.

I found myself remembering every damn one of The River songs.  Apparently they made more of an impact all those years ago than I thought.  Particular highlights:  Independence Day, Jackson Cage, Out IN The Street, The River, Point Blank, Cadillac Ranch, Fade Away, Stolen Car, The Price You Pay, Drive All Night, Wreck on the Highway.  Holy pasta, Wreck on the Highway!

One of the things I found most endearing about Springsteen live is how much he craves connection with his audience and fans.  He was constantly – CONSTANTLY!- walking the front of the stage, grasping hands and high giving, laughing with delight at the signs people held.  Adorably, he pulled a woman out of the audience to dance during “Dancing In The Dark” – and she was wearing a shirt that said “I Love Dancing In The Dark”!  He also had a runway that looped around about the halfway point of the floor, and he came out through it four damn times – the first time, he leaned back and had the crowd body-surf him back to the stage.  I am certain several members of the audience got a handful of BossJunk…

Last time, we saw Clarence Clemons play sax.  It was his last tour. He seemed fatigued, and spent much time sitting on a chair.  Tonight, his nephew Jake was playing sax, and spent as much time running around in front as Bruce did.  And during Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, they played a montage of Big Man photos and videos on the screens.  I was a bit surprised to tear up…

In particular, I enjoyed that they ‘took back’ “Because The Night” from that Patti Smith character.  Highlight during this was a BLISTERING spinning guitar solo from Nils Lofgren that melted faces.

I also have to mention that Max Weinberg’s work on a relatively small drum kit (Are you WATCHING, Neil Peart?) was fucking amazing.  it was propulsive and impeccable and he never flagged. The sound drove the band and was consistently deep and resonant.   An amazingly athletic performance.  Thunder Road indeed…

But the final and enduring thing I have taken away from two Springsteen concerts is this:  how much damn JOY the band has in playing these thundering, full-of-life, anthemic music, sharing the joy with as many people as will listen, and they are so thrilled that this is their life, and that 20,000 people will jam into a barn to join in.  Many times, Bruce allowed the crowd to sing the first refrain of a song, grinning  wildly.

During the show, the band members continually danced around each other, sharing microphones, and mugging for each other. They seem to sincerely delight in their work together, and love to work together.  Steve Van Zandt in particular spent some time manipulating Bruce’s face….

Over the course of , what, 33 damn songs?  Many of which got stretched and expanded to cover Springsteen’s time playing with the audience.  3.5 hours, people.

meanwhile, the Republicanuts had their final debate.  How long was it?  2 hours?  Which event do you think added more life and joy and sheer GOOD to the planet?

Over the course of 33 songs, the band drove the audience into the heights of joy; people, many of them old as I am, into dancing and screaming and just having as much fun as they possibly could.  Joy and Thunder and songs about sex and pain and life…with guitar.  Was zombie happy?  You tell me….

There was a time when I would have scoffed at a Springsteen show.  I was young and confused.  I think many people would say that a Springsteen show is a bucket list item; I saw him once before I died and now I’ve seen him after I died.  I can recommend it, especially if you can do it with two of your best friends, like I did.  It’s good for your health to experience loud joy.